Louis D. FriedmanJun 23, 2008

New Developments on the Road to Cosmos 2

The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios remain committed to flying the first flight with light. Our spacecraft, Cosmos 2, is a maneuverable solar sail that may be the precursor to a new mode of interplanetary travel, and could one day take us to the stars. In addition, through our cooperation with other organizations, we are continuing to encourage the development of solar sail technology.

Sometime within the next few weeks NASA Ames Research Center plans to launch a "nano-sail" as a piggy-back payload on the Falcon launch vehicle—a private booster designed and built by Planetary Society Board Member Elon Musk's SpaceX corporation. This small sail, developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), would test atmospheric drag on the sail, but will not be making a controlled flight under sunlight pressure, which is the goal of Cosmos 2. The Society has been cooperating with the MSFC solar sail technology program for several years.

The Planetary Society also donated 5-micron thick sail material for a similar flight planned by a student group from Poland. The project will test the deployment of a solar sail and the use sail-like structures inside Earth's atmosphere to provide drag for satellite re-entry. The students have built a Cubesat, which they will piggy-back on a launch by the European Space Agency.

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center has asked The Planetary Society to study integrating an existing solar sail module into a flight spacecraft, and arrange for its launch. The module was originally built by industry contractors for a Solar Sail technology program that was later cancelled. The Society has begun studying options for using that sail module.

This is not all. Thanks to our central position in the field of solar sailing other groups have also approached us with suggestions for smaller-scale flight experiments aimed at advancing solar sail technology. We will study the most promising of these, while at the same pushing ahead with the development of Cosmos 2. We are determined to be the first to fly with light.

What's new with Cosmos 2 The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios continue to work on raising the funds necessary to launch Cosmos 2. Ann Druyan, President of Cosmos Studios, has recently made presentations to several potential sponsors. The Discovery Channel hopes to produce a documentary about the first flight with light, and is also working with The Planetary Society to secure additional sponsors.

Even with partial funding, we have initiated work at IKI, the Russian Space Research Institute, on the long-lead development of hardware for the Cosmos 2 spacecraft. This includes the electronics, solar array, and solar sail motors.

We have also started studying possible launch configurations on a reliable launch vehicle. Our preferred option at this point is for Cosmos 2 to piggy-back on a mission that will lift into space on the Russian Soyuz-Fregat booster. Soyuz is the same launcher that takes astronauts, cosmonauts and tourists to the space station, and it has accumulated a remarkable success record over the past several decades. The Lavochkin Company, responsible for the spacecraft�launch interface, believes that several such launch opportunities are available over the next two to three years.

In addition to the Soyuz-Fregat's impressive track record, it would also allow for several simplifications in the design of the new solar sailas against Cosmos 1. This is because the interface with between the solar sail and the Soyuz-Fregat launcher would be much less constrained than the interface designed for the submarine-launched Volna. These simplifications may permit a lower weight spacecraft with some innovations, while preserving the basic design and qualification of the Cosmos 2 spacecraft.

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